Fenugreek (Trigonella Foenum-Graecum)

Medical Uses

Fenugreek has been used to lower blood glucose levels in diabetics and to lower high cholesterol and blood lipid levels. It has also been used to increase fiber in the diet, to reduce inflammation, and to aid digestion. And it has been used for bronchitis and loss of appetite.

Historical Uses

In folklore, fenugreek was said to stimulate milk production and increase appetite. It has been used traditionally to lower blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. In India it has been used as a condiment.

Growth

This annual plant grows in the Mediterranean region.

Fenugreek: Part Used

• Seeds

Major chemical compounds

• Steroidal saponins

• Mucilage

• Alkaloid trigonelline

Flavonoids

Fenugreek: Clinical Uses

Fenugreek has been used to lower blood glucose levels in diabetics, to increase fiber in the diet, to reduce inflammation, and to aid digestion. It has also been used for hypercholesterolemia, hyperlipidemia, bronchitis, and loss of appetite. It is approved by the German Commission E for “loss of appetite and external use as a poultice for inflammation”.

Mechanism of Action

Fenugreek contains soluble fiber that indirectly decreases blood glucose. Its anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties result from fenugreekine (Natural Medicines, 2000).

Fenugreek: Dosage

Tea: Place 0.5 grams of seeds in 150 mL of cold water, let sit for 3 hours, strain, and drink. Do not exceed 6 grams daily (Natural Medicines, 2000).

Poultice: Prepare a paste of 50 grams of powdered seed in 1 liter of hot water and apply to body part (Natural Medicines, 2000).

Side Effects

External use may cause skin irritation. Two cases of severe allergy to fenugreek have been reported.

Contraindications

• None are known.

Herb-Drug Interactions

Fenugreek may exaggerate the effects of sulfonylureas or other hypoglycemic agents (Natural Medicines, 2000).

Pregnancy and Breast-Feeding

Fenugreek is safe for food use in pregnancy; it should not be used in large amounts because it stimulates the uterus (Natural Medicines, 2000). Although it is not recommended during pregnancy, there are no restrictions during breast-feeding.

Summary of Studies

Sowmya & Rajyalakshmi. (1999). In this study, 20 adults ages 50 to 65 consumed germinated fenugreek seed powder in doses of 12.5 and 18 grams. Testing of their blood lipid levels after 30 days showed that consumption of 18 grams resulted in a significant reduction in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein levels. No significant changes were observed in high-density lipoproteins, very low-density lipoproteins, or triglycerides.

Sharma et al. (1996). This 24-week study included 60 patients with type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus. Each participant consumed 25 grams of powdered fenugreek seed, divided into two servings and consumed as a soup before lunch and dinner. Results: Serum cholesterol, triglyceride, and low-density lipoprotein levels decreased. High-density lipoprotein levels increased by 10 percent with no adverse effects.

Sharma et al. (1990). Use of fenugreek seed powder (50 grams b.i.d.) by insulin-dependent diabetics resulted in reduced fasting blood glucose levels and improved glucose tolerance.

Sur et al. (2001). Fenugreek seed extract inhibited tumor cell growth and had a significant anti-inflammatory effect in mice.

Zia et al. (2001). Fenugreek showed antiulcer and hypoglycemic actions in mice.

Bordia et al. (1997). This was a placebo-controlled study of a combination of fenugreek and ginger in healthy subjects, subjects with coronary artery disease (CAD), and subjects with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), the last group with or without CAD. The dose was 2.5 grams twice a day for 3 months. In the healthy subjects, there was no effect on blood lipids or blood sugar (fasting and postprandial). In subjects with CAD and NIDDM, fenugreek significantly lowered blood lipids (total cholesterol and triglycerides) without affecting HDL. In subjects with mild NIDDM and no CAD, fasting and postprandial blood sugars decreased significantly. In subjects with severe NIDDM, blood sugar reduction was not significant. Fenugreek did not affect platelet aggregation, fibrinolytic activity, or fibrinogen.

Fenugreek: Warnings

• External use of fenugreek may cause skin irritation.

• Don’t take fenugreek if you take a medication for diabetes.

• If you’re pregnant, don’t use fenugreek in large amounts because it may stimulate the uterus. Use it only in small amounts in food.

• There are no restrictions during breast-feeding.